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October 27, 2011

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Beatles tribute band simply can't work it out

The Beatles are a musical force that continues to inspire, influence and awe, whether it's fans and artists in Lima or Ulaanbaatar.

They were; they are. They're timeless, and that's what made me so excited to catch a Beatles tribute night by "Biao and His Friends" last Sunday at Mao Livehouse.

When a band performs cover songs that are well known to the audience, it's a way to create common ground from the stage to the balcony. It might be more common for artists to tout where they're from as authenticity currency, but connecting common music tastes aims at the same target.

Unfortunately, the Beatles tributaries were off that night, hampered by a few questionable decisions and a lack of focus into exactly what they were trying to present.

The Beatles sang that "You Can't Do That," and they could have been taking aim at Biao and company as they wore the most incongruous outfits imaginable, setting the scene in a bizarre way. It is not expected or necessarily encouraged that the band wear the namesake boots or haircuts of the Beatles, nor imitate the style the band took over in their later years. Jeans and a T-shirt would've been fine.

Instead, the band took it upon themselves to wear matching schoolboy short-pants and open-collared tuxedo shirts. Fashion is not my thing, but the outfits symbolized everything wrong with the night: a sizable effort, misguided.

Biao arranged nine people on stage, including two backup vocalists and three people playing electric guitar, and then performed standard pop arrangements of brilliant but basic songs like "Can't Buy Me Love." It's possible to imagine the Beatles song "Come Together" being done innovatively and effectively with that many performers, but when it's done the same as way as a unit of half the size, it just feels loose.

And that would've been fine - a group of guys rambling through their favorites - if the rest of the show didn't feel so orchestrated. Missing vocal cues during "Let It Be" can be endearing for a bar band, but lining up sparklers to go off at the front of the stage during "Hey Jude" perfectly signified misplaced forethought.

After the Beatles set, the band took an intermission, coming back without Biao. Lead vocal duties were handed over to Dan, a woman in a black leather jacket who instantly stole the show with her metal music and matching intensity. While singing she harnessed power in her accusing finger, which pointed straight at every single person in the audience.

As for the band, they were now wearing matching T-shirts: teal deals that said, "Stop Racism Now!" An appreciated effort … but to what end?

Fear not music fans: the Shanghai music scene has a chance to right last week's wrongs. This Saturday night, October 29 at Yuyintang, is the annual "Halloween Tribute Show." It will feature a huge cast of local musicians playing sets dedicated to classic rock acts like Metallica, The Velvet Underground, and more. Dig It.


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